Learning401 movement arrives to South County - open mic!

Some arrived to last Saturday's South County Learning401 Story Slam to cheer on a good friend or family member brave enough to take the open mic. Others came out of mere curiosity. Shifting how we think and talk about education in Rhode Island? What could possibly shift that?

Well, storytelling can. In fact, it is shifting the conversation, using storytelling as a vehicle for systems change. Rather than asking, "Where do you stand on education reform and next to whom?" Learning401 asks, "What does powerful learning look like - and how can we [all] make more of a good thing?"

To kick off Saturday's Learning401 event, we asked participants to reflect on their most "powerful learning experience," a story that captures who you are, what you're good at, what you believe, and why. Then, for the next 1.5 hours people were invited to share on open mic [in five minutes or less] their powerful learning stories -- raw, unrehearsed moments of triumph and heartache that humanized every speaker and, in one way or another, forged connections across the room. Said one participant: if each storyteller could toss a ball of string to every person touched, we would have strung layers of fishing nets spanning the Contemporary Theater that night.

Several "grown-up" speakers dug decades deep into adolescence and youth, sharing stories of mentors, family members, and teachers who, intentionally or not, radically transformed that individual's will, self-confidence, and readiness to learn.

Student storytellers took listeners into local elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, even to a nearby karate dojo where our youngest storyteller of the evening, Brianna (age 10), revealed her learnings about family of "blood" and family of "love". A high school junior, Sean (age 17), shared his powerful learnings as a newly published author of the novel Quest for Justice, based on his love of gaming and Minecraft.

Some stories hinged on academic learning moments - lessons from struggling and mastering science, reading, writing, history or math. Other stories centered on social and emotional learning - building relationships with people (as well as pets and animals) in ways that engaged, sparked interest, and set impressionable minds on a career path or way of life they would not have otherwise taken.

One South County resident, Bethany, shared the pain of being forced by her elementary school teacher to make a Father's Day card for a man absent from her childhood. The tears flowed as she recalled having to color the striped paper tie, and the unintended consequences of not understanding the story behind her disinterest and disengagement in school. Several storytellers, in fact, emerged to share stories from a fatherless childhood, and the relationships that emerged to make life whole. For Bethany, it was her science teacher, and science her "place of refuge" -- where her curiosity was not only validated, but valued. And thank goodness, or she wouldn't be the veterinarian technician she is today.

Perhaps it's common knowledge that we're all learners, all the time. A key takeaway from Saturday's stories is that we're all also teachers all the time. Every individual holds the power of influence and impact, regardless of age, position, or perceived authority. And this is where the shift happens, building awareness within the culture - changing not the seeds we plant for powerful learning, but strengthening the soil and air that gives a garden life.

Rhode Island is not short of great ideas for improving education; in fact, we're a treasure trove of exemplar practices in teaching and learning. Learning401 creates a safe, nonpartisan forum for giving voice to these ideas and practices in ways that spark more experimentation and innovation in the classroom, at home, in our communities, and beyond. Because learning happens everywhere and shows up in many forms that cannot be assessed or measured by testing and ranking alone. Stories reveal this, giving voice to the public that is public school, while building bridges for much-needed conversations to happen in ways that are open, thought-provoking, and respectful.

This is the essence of Learning401. More than shining the light (or camera) on powerful learning, we’re starting a movement, engaging Rhode Islanders – students, parents, educators, employers, community leaders – to own their role/contribution from wherever they stand. The result: more innovative means to engage and gauge learning, and with digital assets to effect local/state policy and inform future classroom/curriculum design.

How we look back really does shift our readiness to move forward, and Learning401 is ready. Change is a comin' in RI education, from everywhere, one powerful story at a time.

And... [queue the Carpenters] we've only just begun.

SPECIAL THANKS AGAIN to our story slam sponsors:

  • Ichiban Karate & Kickbox

  • Manic Training South County

  • Belmont Market

  • Cutler & Company Communications by Design

  • Spartina Consulting

  • Andreas Nicholas & Andrew Migliori videography

  • Blacknight Studios

  • and of course our host, The Contemporary Theater

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